A gloomy economy has many college graduates worried about their job prospects.
But some college majors appear to offer better-than-average chances at a lucrative career. Compensation software and data company PayScale tracks the highest-paying college majors yearly, using early-career median pay — estimated salaries three years into a career path. PayScale also adjusted the figures for inflation.
For this ranking, we paired that data with groups of similar majors (think electrical engineering and electrical power engineering). The study includes only bachelor’s degrees.
Which majors are the highest-paying? Read on to find out.
In this August 2022 photo, engineer Tisha Mayfield repairs engine heads at the Stellantis Dundee Engine Complex in Michigan.
60. Robotics and automation
The early-career median pay for people who majored in robotics and automation is $72,100.
In this photo, a Virginia Tech-created robot in the DARPA Robotics Challenge is showcased as engineering trainees look on.
59. Strategic management
People interested in business can major in strategic management, which teaches students how to tackle business goals as a manager. And the median early-career pay? $72,200.
Snap Inc. head of AR business strategy Carolina Arguelles Navas presents at the livestreamed Snap Partner Summit 2022 on April 28, 2022.
58. Applied economics and management
An applied economics and management degree mostly deals with managing a company’s dollars. It’s a valuable degree — one that comes with a median pay of $72,300 in the early career stages.
Former Federal Reserve Chair Ben Bernanke, seen here, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences in October 2022.
57. Architectural engineering
Architect degrees differ from architectural engineering degrees. Architects may focus more on aesthetics, while architectural engineers concentrate on practical knowledge. The early career median pay isn’t bad either: $72,300.
An engineer in Los Angeles shows off a tattoo of the 6th Street Bridge she helped design and build in June 2022.
56. Telecommunications engineering
Someone early in a telecommunications engineering career can expect an annual salary of around $72,400.
In this photo, a telecommunications engineer works on a mobile phone mast in March 2022.
55. Database management
People with this major end up with a median salary of $72,400 a year in their early career.
Here, President Barack Obama presents Charles Bachman with the National Medal of Technology and Innovation.
Bachman was awarded the medal for his inventions in database management.
With a bachelor’s degree in physics, the study of matter and energy, one can expect an early career median pay of $72,700 a year.
Research physicist John F. Clauser poses for a photo at his home on Oct. 4, 2022 in Walnut Creek, California. Clauser jointly won a Nobel Prize in physics with two other scientists.
53. Manufacturing engineering technology
To make manufacturing run smoothly, someone needs to design and create the right equipment. A degree in manufacturing engineering technology has an early career median annual pay of $72,700. A degree in the similar field of manufacturing engineering would earn a comparable salary.
In April 2022, President Joe Biden visited North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University to see equipment that might make the United States a bigger competitor in the world economy.
52. Accounting and computer systems
Accounting isn’t just accounting anymore. Experts must perform multiple functions at once — and that’s where the accounting and computer systems major comes in. The median annual salary for people in their early careers is $73,300.
Deb Seigars, seen here, teaches an accounting class at an education center in Portland, Oregon in this 2009 photo.
51. Applied physics
There’s theoretical physics, and then there’s applied physics, which marries principles to practical uses. Many people consider it the bridge between physics and engineering. And in their early careers, people with a degree in applied physics can earn a median $73,400 annual salary.
In this 2020 photo, Simon Schindwolf researches human-machine interaction in a quantum application laboratory.
50. Nursing science
Doctors go to school for years, but people with a bachelor’s degree in nursing science can earn a median annual salary of $73,400 in their early careers.
Hong Vu waits to receive her bachelor’s degree in nursing science at the Alvernia University spring commencement ceremony in this May 2015 photo.
49. Information security
With so much personal data finding its way online, information security is more important than ever. The early career median pay for people who major in this degree is $73,500 annually.
Peter Zatko, former head of security at Twitter, testified as a whistleblower in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee. He said that Twitter had widespread information security failures.
48. Ceramic engineering
Engineers work with a lot of metals and plastics. But ceramic engineering, the science of non-metals and inorganic materials, is also important. Someone who majors in it may see a median early career salary of $73,700 a year.
Leigh Sheppard, a student in ceramic engineering, develops a method to generate hydrogen from water in May 2005.
47. Hotel administration
A major in hotel administration teaches students how to own and run a hotel. Degree earners can make a median salary of $73,700 a year early in their careers.
During the COVID-19 lockdown in 2020, hotel managers like Heiko Dobrikow, seen here, adapted to stricter sanitation practices to mitigate the spread of the virus.
46. Automotive engineering
The changing technology of electric cars means that automotive engineering is still a solid career choice. Early on in their careers, people who major in it earn a median annual salary of $73,800.
Here, automotive engineers work on an autonomous vehicle at the Zoox manufacturing facility in Fremont, California in April 2022.
45. Industrial and labor relations
People passionate about the labor movement can major in industrial relations and advocate for worker rights. This degree comes with a median salary of $74,000 a year during early career.
In this July 2003 photo, retired members of the United Auto Workers picket outside of General Motors in Detroit.
44. Radiation therapy
Radiation therapy is an important part of cancer treatment, and it takes a special hand to use the medical imaging technology. The early career median pay for people who major in it is $74,100 annually.
Here, a radiation therapist prepares a cat for radiation treatment.
43. Actuarial science
Lovers of numbers might enjoy a degree in actuarial science, which applies statistics to assess risk in many types of industries. People with this degree have an annual median salary of $74,200.
Pictured is a graph that is part of a Stanford University research project called “Long Shot,” which assesses the risk for gun owners of being shot.
42. Computer security
Computer security focuses on the protection of computer systems and networks. People who major in this degree could see a median annual salary of $74,200 within the first three years of their careers.
Carole House is the director of cybersecurity and secure digital innovation at the White House National Security Council. She’s pictured here during the Chainalysis Links conference in New York in May 2022.
41. Engineering management
The engineering management degree combines engineering principles with administration and management. The median for annual early career pay is $75,200.
Yixue Li, engineering manager at Pinterest, was a keynote speaker at 2019’s Structuring Chaos: The Next Generation of Search panel in New York.
Astrophysics is the study of planetary systems, star clusters other phenomena. A bachelor’s degree in it can lead to a median early career annual pay of $75,300.
A girl examines a display at the Hayden Planetarium exhibition of the Department of Astrophysics at the American Museum of Natural History in this April 2014 photo.
39. Construction engineering management
A degree in construction engineering management can teach students oversee building projects. The early career median pay is $73,600. Similar majors include construction science and building construction, both of which offer salaries in a similar range.
In this 2003 photo, construction engineers consult with a Boston fire chief after the collapse of a parking garage.
38. Cognitive science
Cognitive science is the study of the human brain, and how it learns. This degree comes with an early career pay averaging out to $75,800.
Lisa Harvey, a cognitive scientist, is seen here in March 2006 in Boston with a model brain.
Early career engineers make a median salary of $75,900.
This photo from September 2022 shows Erik Lucero, lead engineer of the Google Quantum AI on Google’s Goleta, California campus.
36. Operations and information systems management
People with degrees in operations and information systems management have mastered complex computer systems. The early career median annual pay is $76,200.
Here, the information systems manager for the city and county of Broomfield, in Colorado, shows how technology can help governments create better local maps.
35. Packaging science
With the dramatic rise of online shopping, packaging is more important than ever. And there’s a science behind it, too — to make packaging more eco-friendly, more efficient and more cost-effective. People who major in it have an annual median salary of $76,400 three years into their career.
Workers prepare packaged food bowls at the Amy’s Kitchen facility in Santa Rosa, California in this photo.
34. Marine transportation management
People curious about boating routes can major in marine transportation management. In three years, degree holders are earning a median salary of $76,700 annually.
Simon Bernard (left) and Alexandre Decelote (right) pose beside a ship made entirely of plastic in Sept. 2022. They are co-founders of eco-friendly marine transport company Plastic Odyssey.
33. Engineering physics
Engineering physics combines practical and theoretical sciences. The median early career pay is $76,900. A similar degree in the same salary range would be engineering science.
This November 2015 photo shows high school student Briana Goodoak touching a Van de Graaff generator at the University of Southern Maine’s Engineering Physics booth during a STEM event in Portland, Maine.
32. Plastics engineering
With the rise of 3D printer technology, plastics engineering can be an exciting field. People with degrees can earn a median of $76,900 a year early in their careers.
Yusef Munoz shows off a biodegradable plastic prosthesis, made from cornstarch and created with a 3D printer, in August 2020.
Munoz works for a charitable organization that provides prosthetic, customized limbs for children.
22. Materials science and engineering
Students in this discipline learn to design new materials. They study engineering, chemistry and physics. The degree, along with similar degrees such materials engineering or materials science, comes with a early career median pay of $79,000.
Thomas Plaisted, a materials engineer at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory, works on a safer football helmet for the NFL in this 2015 photo.
31. Corporate accounting and finance
Corporate accounting is complex, and specializing in a degree like corporate accounting and finance, rather than a general accounting degree, can mean a median early career pay of $77,100 a year.
Marisa Drew, CEO of the Impact Advisory and Finance Department, is seen here speaking onstage at the 2019 Concordia Annual Summit in New York, N.Y.
30. Optical science and engineering
Optical science and engineering focuses on technologies that rely on light. The early-career annual median pay is $77,300.
In this photo, Scott Wilson, a senior optical engineer at DataPlay in Boulder, Colorado, works at an optical aligning station.
29. Mechanical engineering
A mechanical engineer designs power-producing machines. Someone with a degree in mechanical engineering can make a median of $77,300 a year in the first three years of a career. Similar degrees like engineering mechanics and electromechanical engineering can make about the same amount.
In this June 2022 photo, mechanical engineer Tony Maas works on the rotating bearing of a wind turbine.
The study of data storage and retrieval is often called informatics. People who major in it have a median pay of $77,300 in their early career.
This photo shows an attendee of the CoinDesk 2022 Consensus Festival in Austin, Texas, taking a picture of a replica bitcoin mine. The storage and retrieval of blockchain, crypto, NFT and Web 3 ecosystems is a hot topic.
27. Computer science and mathematics
A computer science and mathematics degree is a valuable one, majors making an early career median annual pay of $77,400. There are several computer science degrees in Payscale’s top college major rankings, and they all have a similar salary point.
Rawand Ahmad, a computer game developer, is shown in this 2021 photo standing behind computer monitors.
26. Structural design and construction engineering technology
How do structures come together without falling apart? People who major in this degree learn how to answer that question, all with an early career median salary of $77,400. Other structural engineering degrees offer similar pay.
This photo features MIT structural design student Tierra Guinn speaking at a charity event in April 2017.
25. Biomedical engineering
Biomedical engineering develops new technologies in medical science and biology. The early career median pay is $78,000. Similar majors, like bioengineering and medical engineering, have a comparable median pay.
Dr. Igor Efimov, pictured here, is the chairman of the department of biomedical engineering at The George Washington University in Washington, D.C.
Mechatronics students learn about robotics, computer science, electronics, telecommunications, and control engineering. People who major in it make a median annual salary of $79,000 in the early years of their career.
In this August 2022 photo, a mechatronics apprentice works on a lathe.
23. Instrumentation and control engineering
A control engineer keeps an eye on units of measure — like temperatures or chemical levels — especially when they need to stay regulated. The degree, along with similar control engineering degrees, tends to have an early career median pay of around $79,000 a year.
Control engineers at NASA watch and react in this January 2006 photo as the Stardust capsule is released for a return trip to Earth. The capsule contained cometary particles for NASA to study.
21. Dental hygiene
A medical field that doesn’t need decades of school? Consider dental hygiene. The median salary for people who majored in dental hygiene is $79,200 in the first three years of employment.
In this photo, a dental hygienist works on a patient’s teeth at the Bread for the City charitable dental clinic in Washington, D.C.
20. Industrial and systems engineering
Industrial and systems engineering teaches students how to — yes — analyze, improve and design industrial systems. People who pick this major, or similar industrial engineering or systems engineering majors, can stand to earn a median of around $79,700 in their early careers.
This November 2022 photo demonstrates a worker-operated robot production line in Westborough, Massachussetts. Industrial and systems engineers can create these kinds of production lines, and the machines that go into them.
19. Aeronautical/aerospace engineering technology
People who are interested in spacecraft and aircraft could major in aeronautical/aerospace engineering technology. With this degree, they earn a median salary of $80,000 in early career years. Similar majors include aeronautical engineering and mechanical and aeronautical engineering.
Christine Darden, a NASA aeronautical engineer, is honored at a Women’s History Month Capitol Hill event in March 2019. Darden’s life was dramatized in the film “Hidden Figures.”
18. Electronic systems technology
A degree in electronic systems technology may be worthwhile, with a median annual early career salary of $80,500.
In this Nov. 2022 photo, an electronics technician demonstrates a model of a sorting system to a trainee.
17. Naval architecture and marine engineering
Building new watercraft and other marine technology requires a special degree — such as naval architecture and marine engineering. The median salary for people who majored in it is $80,700 a year. Similar marine engineering majors are also within the $80,000 range.
The watercraft Mayflower 400 is seen here in April 2021, following the same transatlantic trail as the original Mayflower ship. The engineers who designed it called it the “world’s first intelligent ship.” It’s made with fully automated artificial intelligence and no humans are needed onboard.
16. Welding engineering technology
Welders are important, but so are the people who design welding techniques, processes and equipment. The median early-career pay for people who major in welding engineering technology is $80,900 a year. Similar welding engineering degrees have comparable early career pay.
In the December 2015 photo, a student at the National Aeronautics University uses a soldering iron on a circuit board. Welding engineering technology could be used to create circuit boards like these.
15. Polymer science and engineering
Polymer science and engineering majors learn about complex materials that are increasingly important in the tech space.
Anyone who gets a degree in this can expect a median salary of $81,300 three years into their career.
This photo shows Timothy Scott, a postdoctoral researcher, handling a new polymer he helped create at the University of Colorado.
14. Software engineering
The demand for software engineers is high, so majoring in software engineering may be a safe bet. The median early-career pay is $81,800.
Software engineer Anthony Mays gives a one-on-one coaching session to Howard University student Taiwo Oriowo in this September 2022 photo. Mays is part of the Brilliant Black Minds organization, which seeks to double the number of Black software engineers in tech spaces.
13. Electrical power engineering
Electrical power engineering focuses on just that — the generation and transmission of electric power.
Similar majors might include electrical engineering, electromechanical engineering, and electrical and computer engineering. People with these degrees could make a median salary of $82,300 a year during the first three years of their careers.
Trainees practice working on a programmable logic controller at a Louisville, Kentucky trade school in August 2022.
12. Paper science
Yes, it’s the science of paper — more accurately, a branch of engineering that involves converting raw materials into paper products and co-products. Someone with a degree in paper science might see a median salary of $82,600 in their early career.
A June 2006 photo shows the Institute of Paper Science and Technology at Georgia Tech.
11. Computational and applied mathematics
Math is still an important field, and a computational and applied mathematics degree could have median early-career pay of $83,200. Applied mathematics degrees marry math concepts to fields such as chemistry, engineering, biology and computer science.
Yu-Jui Huang, seen here in this June 2021 photo, is an assistant professor in applied mathematics at the University of Colorado—Boulder.
10. Chemical and biomolecular engineering
Nanotechnology, the study of proteins — these kinds of sciences fall under chemical and biomolecular engineering. The median salary for people three years into their career is $84,200 yearly.
This September 2022 photo shows biomolecular engineer Sebastian Rakers examining cultured fish cells. His startup company, Bluu Seafood, hopes to have lab-grown fish sticks on the market soon.
9. Aeronautics and astronautics
A degree in aeronautics and astronautics can teach people to build rockets and more. People who major in it have a median pay of $85,600 early in their careers.
In November 2022, NASA launched the Artemis I flight test from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
8. Mining engineering
A mining engineer can do a variety of tasks: excavation, exploration, processing, or just figuring out how to make mines safer for workers. The median early-career pay for people with a mining engineering degree is $85,700.
This 2016 photo shows mining engineer Christoph Goss taking to state employee Allen Sorenson before they enter the Mogul mine in Silverton, Colorado.
7. Computer systems engineering
The world of computer systems engineering is an important one. This major, along with systems engineering and electrical and computer engineering, has a fairly high early career median pay, around $87,400 a year.
Systems engineer Dragana Perkovic-Martin points to a rendering of the ISS-RapidScat instrument, which is attached to the International Space Station, in this 2013 photo taken at the NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California
6. Metallurgical engineering
Metallurgy helps turn metals into useful items. A major in metallurgical engineering has a median salary of $89,200 annually for people three years into their career.
Here, a man uses a blowtorch to heat a copper tube at his metal bending shop in Dundalk, Maryland.
5. Nuclear engineering technology
As scientists race to look for sustainable energy sources, nuclear engineering technology has emerged as an important sector. A degree can yield a median salary of $92,200 a year.
Randall Granaas, senior nuclear engineer at Southern California Edison, is seen here taking a radiation reading at the dry spent fuel storage facility in April 2022.
4. Operations research and industrial engineering
Operations research breaks down complex management problems into basic components that can be tackled through mathematical analysis.
The median early-career pay is $93,900. Payscale reports that other operations research majors make close to the same amount.
Engineering professor Chris Gerdes poses for a photograph at Stanford University in October 2015, where he researches the future of autonomous vehicles and how to optimize them.
3. Petroleum engineering
Petroleum engineers maintain and create new equipment that extracts natural gas and oil.
The median early career salary for people with this degree is $99,800 a year.
This photo features a rig on an oil well in Utah.
2. Physician Assistant Studies
A physician assistant can make diagnoses, develop treatment plans and prescribe medication with the oversight of a licensed doctor.
People with a degree in physician assistant studies are earning median early-career pay of $104,600.
In this March 2021 photo, physician assistant Alyssa Hernandez prepares doses of the COVID-19 vaccine at the Stacy Medical Center in Los Angeles.
1. Electrical engineering and computer science
The No. 1 spot goes to electrical engineering and computer science.
The early-career median pay for majors is $119,200 annually.
This May 2019 photo depicts electrical engineer Rainer Mallebrein showing off the first computer mouse. The mouse was developed between 1965 and 1968, prior to the invention of personal computers.
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